Cathleen de Kerchove was born in Belgium, where she graduated from the nursing school at ULB. Since her early childhood, she has wanted to understand and alleviate suffering in general, and particularly that of children in armed conflicts. This is why she specialized in pediatrics and embarked on a journey to explore different cultures. Thanks to her husband’s profession, she has lived in various countries, taking an interest in local cultures and the challenges she encounters.
Soon, she felt that her nursing background was insufficient, prompting her to pursue a postgraduate degree in applied psychology. This was followed by numerous trainings aimed at assisting adults and children with physical and emotional pain. In the United States, she trained in craniosacral therapy and emotional somatic therapies, as well as trauma therapy. In China, she learned about acupuncture, Tuina massage, reflexology, and Qigong. In Rwanda, she carried her knowledge of EMDR and also took the opportunity during a long stay in India to learn about Yoga and Ayurveda.
Continuously, she learns and applies different tools in the field, adapting them to the environment, with the aim of helping local communities and expatriate families.
In 2015, during a return to Belgium, she was led to undertake a mission in Iraq on behalf of a Singaporean NGO. She returned shocked by the testimonies she received from Yazidi families, highlighting grave violence inflicted on very young children. Around the same time, she had a preview of Thierry Michel’s film “The Man Who Mends Women.” This was the tipping point, the anger within her stemming from the violation of barely eight-month-old girls must give way to action!
Dr. Mukwege (2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) introduced her to Véronique De Keyser, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament and an emeritus professor of psychology at ULiège. It was only natural that the idea of creating a non-profit organization and committing to finding answers and a suitable protocol for these very young children who are victims of sexual violence and/or born of rape emerged.
The non-profit organization “Les Enfants de Panzi et d’ailleurs” was created in 2015 by these four dedicated women: Véronique De Keyser, Isabelle Durant, Marie Dominique Simonet, and Cathleen de Kerchove.
At that time, the Panzi Hospital in the DRC’s South Kivu was receiving numerous young girls who had been raped and subjected to severe injuries. An initial field mission identified two villages from where the majority of the girls came. The program was born, and the methodology was developed and continues to evolve to this day.
Since 2020, Cathleen de Kerchove has taken over the presidency of the NGO and continues to expand its efforts and partnerships. She regularly travels to the DRC, Iraq, and has plans to visit the Central African Republic soon.